When is the last time you ran so fast that you were totally out of breath? Maybe you’re a runner. Maybe you workout and regularly push yourself to your physical limits. That would be a good thing, to keep yourself in shape. But when is the last time your ran so fast because you had to? Have you ever run so fast to save your life or save yourself from bodily harm? [Read more…]
I was in eighth grade when I first learned about the major types of narrative conflict. We were reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and I remember how frustrated I became when there were different opinions about what was the main type of narrative conflict in the novel. Was it man against man? Man against society? Man against nature? Or man against self? Of course, back then in 1981, we still used the word “man” to refer to human persons in general. [Read more…]
(This sermon was titled “Dependence to Service” and coincided with Plainfield’s Big Serve:Change the World, a community-wide effort to serve through numerous projects. The scriptures were Isaiah 5:1-7 and John 15:1-8.)
The last time the lower 48 states experienced a total solar eclipse was February 26 of 1979. The path of totality, as it is called, crossed the Pacific northwest that Monday afternoon and then had its maximum totality in western Ontario at about five o’clock. A solar eclipse can be experienced within thousands of kilometers of the path of totality. I have fond memories of the ’79 eclipse. I was in fifth grade and remember how our classroom teacher, Miss Kappel, on whom I had a huge crush, prepared us for the experience by making pinhole projectors. The school also set up a telescope to project the image of the moon crossing the sun. I was utterly fascinated. Ever since then I have wanted to experience “totality.” [Read more…]
Several weeks ago when I was researching for my video on the “Gospel According to Comedians,” I came across the graphic on the cover of today’s bulletin. At the time I thought this graphic would prove useful or provocative to me, but I wasn’t sure for what purpose, so I kept the file on my screen’s desktop. Ever since then the thumbnail image of Jesus surfing the waves hung there on my desktop, begging me to go back to it, to find out more about who created the image and for what reason.
Not surprisingly, the image was created by someone deeply involved with surfer culture, the surfer and artist Rick Griffin. Even though I am originally from Southern California, I don’t know the first thing about surfing. When I first dove into the task of researching the image, I thought I would spend some time learning about surfing culture and the lingo. As it turns out, the surfing culture is deep and wide, and surfers have a language and a code of ethics unique to them. One thing central to proper surfing etiquette is to not act out or talk about your surfing ability beyond your actual ability. Surfers have a word for self-promoters like this: kooks. For example, you are a kook if “you finish your ride on top of a toddler’s sand castle halfway up the beach” or “you’ve had a board for eighteen months, and it’s never seen surf wax.” [Read more…]
Every good story has to have conflict, otherwise it’s not a story.
I remember many years ago when I was a student at Columbia College Chicago studying fiction writing, we sat in semi-circles in four-hour class sessions practicing all sorts of visualization and verbalization exercises to fertilize our imaginations, to develop our abilities to describe, on the fly, what we saw in our imaginations. What I always found lacking in Columbia’s method, however, was clear teaching about how to generate and resolve conflict. Surely, if you can’t write dialog, if you can’t set a scene, if you can’t immerse your readers in the world of your fiction, your fiction won’t be good. But if there is no conflict, then there is only description, which ultimately leads to boredom. I wrote many hundreds of pages describing characters, engaging them in dialog, showing their surroundings, and so on. But at the end of the day, I often asked myself, as did my teachers, “So what?”
So what was my writing about? What was the conflict? Why should I/we care about the characters I was creating? Where were they going? [Read more…]